Archbishop Stands Firm

News: US News
by Martina Moyski  •  •  May 5, 2020   

Defends sacking openly gay teacher

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CINCINNATI ( - In the face of community backlash, an Ohio prelate is standing firm in his decision not to renew the contract of a teacher at a Catholic high school in his diocese who is in a same-sex "marriage."

Cincinnati archbishop Dennis Schnurr defended the teacher's firing, saying that sometimes "an individual and an organization are simply no longer compatible — nothing more, nothing less," in a letter to the Archbishop Alter High School community in Kettering, Ohio.

Archbishop Alter High School

"The church has a responsibility to act when its employees behave in a manner that contradicts Catholic church teaching," Abp. Schnurr added.

The decision was taken after the archbishop was made aware that popular English teacher Jim Zimmerman, who has worked at Alter High School for 23 years, was in a same-sex "marriage."

In his letter, the archbishop referred to the "teacher-minister contract" that Zimmerman, along with other teachers who work for schools in the archdiocese of Cincinnati, must sign each year as a condition of employment.

The contract obliges teachers to refrain from conduct that is "in contradiction to Catholic social doctrine or morals" such as "cohabitation outside marriage, sexual activity out of wedlock and same-sex sexual activity."

Schnurr said the decision not to renew Zimmerman's contract was necessary because he had violated church teaching and the terms of his contract.

Behaviors that are ... confirmed life choices contrary to Catholic teaching cannot be offered to young people as a witness to the faith.

Speaking to his obligation to protect and guide young Catholics in his diocese, the archbishop said: "Behaviors that are not regrettable mistakes but are rather confirmed life choices contrary to Catholic teaching cannot be offered to young people as a witness to the faith, no matter the other outstanding attributes a person may possess."

The archbishop has received significant pushback.

Zimmerman's defenders have circulated a petition calling on the archdiocese to reverse its decision with more than 25,000 having signed it as of May 5.

Others have taken to social media platforms to criticize Zimmerman's firing, defending him as a respected and dedicated teacher, and accusing the archdiocese of "homophobia."

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Some students and alumni protested in cars outside the high school on May 1, honking horns and playing songs that were reportedly Zimmerman's favorites.

The archbishop has confirmed receiving "misinformed" and "mean-spirited" comments, some life-threatening, sent to him and to the principal of the high school, Lourdes Lambert, and called them "immoral and unfair."

English teacher Jim Zimmerman

Speaking to the rift his decision has exposed in the diocese, Schnurr said, "It saddens all of us that this matter has caused a fracture in the wonderful, strong Alter community."

The archbishop remains steadfast explaining that the policies guiding archdiocesan schools are informed by "the enduring teaching of the Catholic Church — not by hate, bigotry or homophobia, as some have alleged."

"The Catechism, or enduring teaching, of the Catholic Church says of heterosexual people that 'the plan of God regarding man and woman' is that they are called to 'an intimate communion of life and of love in marriage' and told to 'be fruitful and multiply,'" Abp. Schnurr explained.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, based on Sacred Scripture (Genesis 191–29; Romans 124–27; 1 Corinthians 6:10; 1 Timothy 1:10) refers to homosexual acts as acts of "grave depravity" that are "intrinsically disordered" (2357).

Spokesperson for the Cincinnati archdiocese Jennifer Schack said the diocese "values all of our teachers," but noted that Catholic school teachers are expected to be "witnesses to the teaching of the Catholic Church in both word and deed," as outlined in the teacher-minister contracts.

Embrace the teaching of the Church with open hearts, seek understanding and consult the Catechism ... for a deeper explanation of her teaching.

Corroborating the archbishop's decision, Schack told Church Militant:

The enduring teaching of the Catholic Church, based on the revealed Word of God, has always taught that marriage is between a man and a woman and that sexual relations are reserved as an act of intimacy, open to procreation, for married couples only. Abstinence from sexual relations outside of a valid marriage, which can only be between a man and a woman, applies equally to all people without bias.

She said, "Being a practicing Catholic requires the acceptance of all that the Church teaches," even if "some teachings may be hard to accept or understand, given the moral confusion of our culture today."

Joshua Payne-Elliott (right) and his partner

Schack reported that the diocese is receiving positive comments from supporters "who are thanking Abp. Schnurr for standing up for the truth of the Faith."

Urging Catholics to learn what it means to be Catholic, Schack encouraged the faithful "to embrace the teaching of the Church with open hearts, seek understanding and consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church for a deeper explanation of her teaching."

The diocese of Cincinnati is not alone in negotiating this matter of teachers adhering to the tenets of the Church. The archdiocese of Indianapolis, for example, fired a teacher because of his same-sex "marriage" in 2019.

Teacher Joshua Payne-Elliott sued the archdiocese, alleging the archdiocese illegally intervened to have him fired and threatened consequences if the school didn't rehire him.

But the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) ruled that the archdiocese was within its rights under the First Amendment to have Payne-Elliott fired.

"The First Amendment to the United States' Constitution protects the right of religious institutions and people to decide what their beliefs are, to teach their faith and to associate with others who share their faith. The First Amendment rightly protects the free exercise of religion, said Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division.

Abp. Schnurr said, "We respect and love all our brothers and sisters," and, alluding to rights covered by the First Amendment, added, "The inherent dignity of every human being does not mean, however, that all behavior is to be condoned."

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